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The Telegram

Christopher Ralph Morphs into TV Land
By Mark Vaughan-Jackson

If you told Christopher Ralph a year ago that he'd spend most of 1998 magically morphing into a hawk on a new TV series, he'd likely have helped you lie down to rest until the delusions passed.

But that's exactly what he's been doing as he plays Tobias, one of the characters in YTV's new science fiction series Animorphs. Based on the popular series of books for younger readers, Animorphs tells the story of five young people who stumble upon a dying alien.

To try to save Earth from another evil alien race _ one bent on invasion _ the dying being passes to the five a magical power, enabling them to morph into different animals. Filming has wrapped up on the 20-episode first season, which airs on YTV Tuesdays and repeated Saturdays. Scholastic Books, which publishes the books and produces the TV show, also has a Web site at http://www.scholastic.com/animorphs.

But even though filming is over, the scope of this lucky break is still sinking in for Ralph. Ralph was first bitten by the theatre bug at Prince of Wales Collegiate in St. John's. But his interest grew, and he took as many roles as he could outside of school from the stage adaptation of The Breakfast Club to sketch comedy shows.

Last fall Ralph made the move to the mainland, first to Oakville, Ont., and then to Toronto. He was, at first, the stereotypical young, wannabe actor.

"I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do so I cut lawns and washed windows for six months until the snows came and then I shoveled driveways and worked in a diner," Ralph said. "Then I said 'None of this is acting. I'll see if I can't do that up here.'" Early this year he decided to get serious, signing on with the Noble-Kaplan agency in January. With agent representation came a string of auditions and call backs.

It was the audition for Animorphs, the third one he went for, where Ralph hit paydirt getting the part and starting filming last April. All of Ralph's previous experience was on the stage, including regular work with the Shakespeare by the Sea Festival.

TV was a beast of an entirely different colour for the young actor. "The first couple of weeks it was definitely on-the-job training. I had no idea what I was doing.

"Everyone was kind of forewarned that I'd never acted for the camera before so people in the crew were told to correct my theatre acting mistakes," he said. "Because it's a whole different game. Craft-wise, if I can use a phrase like that, it's the same sort of thing but technically it's nothing similar, subsequently has a lot more to do with it than in the theatre."

Adding into the learning process was the fact much of the time he was acting in front of the camera with nothing but a green screen behind him, the screen where computer animations would be added later in the editing process. And acting in a show where the characters spend as much time as animals as they do humans was another interesting challenge.

While the other four lead roles morph into a variety of animals, from tigers to lions, as Tobias, the loner, Ralph turns into a hawk almost exclusively. That meant he had to act like a hawk for some scenes where he morphs in and out of animal shape.

Helping this process was the fact live animals were regular visitors to the set, from a hawk to white Siberian tigers to Bongo, the lion that appeared in the movie The Ghosts and the Darkness. The actors studied the animals' mannerisms and ways of moving.

Fun as it all was, not to mention a valuable addition to his resume, Ralph is well aware of how lucky he was to get a major TV role like this on what was effectively his first attempt. But he isn't about to let it go to his head.

"You never know what's going to happen in a year, let alone a month," Ralph said. "It's not to say that I'm this big success story now, who knows where it will go from here. Hopefully things will work out but I'm still prepared for the eventuality that they won't. Because you never know, especially in a game like acting."

The Telegram / Transcript by Matt